Motion for Conference

I have been involved with my trade union since 2008. Back then it was called “Impact” and initially, I was just a member. Eventually I became a workplace contact. This is similar to workplace representative but instead of representing the member you take their details and a short description of the issue, and then pass it on to right person.

After some time I joined a sub-section committee. The trade union, now know as “Forsa” after it merged with two other unions, covers six different industry sections (usually called divisions) and our branch creates sub-section committees to monitor the work in those sections and support members. I joined the Voluntary Bodies section committee as that was the area I worked in.

I become a workplace representative and assisted members with their issues and last year I was elected on to the main Branch Executive Committee as Secretary. It’s one of the busiest roles and I love it. I’m very grateful I was encouraged to run for it. I was re-elected to serve this year.

The next stage, in the far future, is to maybe run for the Divisional Executive or even the National Executive, but I think that’s a long way off and not something I’m interested in right now.

Anyway, every year we have a conference. It alternates between a divisional and a national, so each area gets a conference every two years. At conference we get to raise motions.

My motion, shown below, has been approved by the Branch Executive and in May I get to read it out to 1000 people. I’m not nervous about that, I’ve spoken to bigger crowds and can hold them in the palm of my hand (arrogant yes, but true!) but my worry is what if it gets defeated. What if there are more homophobic people in the audience than allies. I genuinely don’t think I’ll be able to hold my upset or anger in if it gets defeated.

So here it is, for you to read before hand. I have to read it out tomorrow in a test run in front of 12 strangers. Should I get them to vote? Imagine if it’s defeated there?

Wish me luck for May. I’ll keep you informed.


Title

Creating a Safe and Inclusive Workplace: Establishing an LGBTI+ Network within Forsa

Motion

I call on this conference to establish an LGBTI+ network to support all members and staff who identify as a member of the LGBTI+ community by instructing each branch to elect or employ, at their own discretion, a dedicated LGBTI+ officer.

Presentation

The current issues facing the LGBTI+ community, many of which stem from the rise of the far right, are deeply concerning. LGBTI+ individuals face discrimination and harassment in different areas of their lives, not least of which is the workplace. This discrimination can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression, which can have a negative impact on a person’s mental health and overall well-being.

As a gay man, I’m going to use “gay” or “the community” as shorthand, but I am referring to the entire LGBTI+ community.

For a short time in the wake of the marriage equality referendum it seemed that things had improved, but over the last several years things have gotten worse, with reports of discrimination, violence and hate crimes aimed at our community increasing.

I speak from personal experience. After many years living in Ireland as an out gay man, recently I was spat on and called “fag” in the street.

I have also faced homophobia in my workplace, and I am far from being alone. There are stories from all industries where homophobic slurs are used as a joke because people are not aware just how hurtful some terminology can be. Sometimes people are fully aware and use those terms purposely to cause hurt. For a gay person who is comfortable expressing who they are, these terms can be difficult to deal with. For someone who has not made a disclosure about their sexuality, these slurs can be devastating and lead to that person leaving work, isolating and, as the research shows, lead to thoughts of self harm.

By introducing an LGBTI+ support position within each Forsa branch, we can promote inclusion and encourage education and engagement that would lead to safer worker environments and improved mental health for our gay members.

This position would enable members to seek support just as they do right now, but in the knowledge that their representative, their advocate, has a more direct understanding of their feelings and circumstances.

You might be thinking that the position of Equality or Diversity Officer fills this role. You’d be wrong. Because unless you have experienced homophobia or transphobia, you cannot know how it feels.

Because have you ever felt different or been made to feel bad or dirty from a young age because of who you’re attracted to? Were you a child when you first heard your sexuality used as a negative slur to belittle or bully you and others? Have you ever pretended not to be yourself so that you wouldn’t lose family, friends or even your job? Have you ever wished you could change your sexuality just to be “normal”? Has the word “normal” been used to describe what everyone else is and you are not? Has the idea of you adopting children or getting married ever been debated and voted on, on a national platform and extensively in the national media? Were there people who wouldn’t attend your wedding because of your sexuality? Are there people in your work place you know would not support you because of your sexuality?

Have you faced any of that? I’ve faced all of it.

Imagine talking to someone about a workplace issue that is related to your sexuality, and the person you’re talking to has no understanding of what you’ve been through. Imagine feeling brave enough come out to your advocate and them having no idea just how much energy it took for you just to say the words “I’m gay!”

Unless you have experienced the lifelong process of coming out, because trust me, it isn’t a one-time thing, we have to come out every time we meet someone new, I’ve just come out to all of you. Unless you’ve experience this then you can never know or understand how it feels to come out. It’s incredibly stressful, you can never really be sure how someone will treat you after you reveal your sexuality to them. This is why an LGBTI+ officer, who is a member of the community, and has experienced the same issues as someone who needs help, is important.

A dedicated LGBTI+ officer, be it volunteer or member of staff, would be a valuable resource for our workplace representatives, organisers, IRO and AGS’s, who may be advocating for someone from the community who is seeking support around an LGBTI+ issue. This network of LGBTI+ officers would help to raise awareness of the issues facing the community and promote a culture of acceptance and respect within the organisation.

As the number of incidents of discrimination rise, so will workplace issues. Let us ensure we are ready to offer the right support when we need to.

In conclusion, this motion is necessary to ensure that all our members who identify as LGBTI+ feel supported and safe in their workplace. I urge to approve this approve this motion and thank you for listening.

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